There are many adaptations that families of children with
cerebral palsy use to provide care to their loved ones. Young children may use adaptive
strollers, assisted-standing mechanisms, head and body control apparel,
and many other types of orthotic and mechanical assists.
However, one avenue that may be of help to some children comes from an
unlikely source: man’s best friend. Canine service animals are uniquely
suited to help children with cerebral palsy, due to their loyal nature
and ability to be trained to help with everyday tasks.
In addition to these practical applications, dogs can also provide comfort,
support, and companionship in a way that a machine could never provide.
Southern Californian Ryan Sinclair, a nine year-old with cerebral palsy,
can feel the soft fur of his service dog, Tiffi, when he needs to be comforted.
That touch has a calming effect on the young man.
Bonnie Mueller, who is a volunteer with Canine Companions for Independence
helped train Tiffi so that she could, in turn, help Ryan to learn and
reach new milestones in his development.
Ryan’s mother, Kim Sinclair, has seen the results first hand: Tiffi
is Ryan’s “friend, motivator, and his eyes and ears”. With
Tiffi’s help, Ryan has even learned to speak.
There are about 4,000 service dogs in the United States, but training and
maintaining a service animal can become expensive and time-consuming without
help, both monetarily and hands-on. In general, service dogs may be an
appropriate method for children with cerebral palsy, but every case and
situation is different.